I was still getting used to the fact that for three days I'd been very sick.
"Look lie down on the sofa and I'll get you some blankets or something, maybe a glass of water," Yamato supported me over to said sofa. "I knew getting you out of bed this soon was a bad idea. Didn't you ever hear of a recovery period?"
"I never get sick," I complained, pushing free of his hands and trying to stand up again. Big mistake. The living room spun crazily and if Yamato hadn't pushed me back down onto the sofa, I'd have fallen.
"Look, Taichi," he said waving a finger at me. "Lie down and stay put, got it?"
I nodded, hoping I wasn't going to throw up or do anything embarrassing.
"Good, now I'm going to get some stuff."
I watched Yamato go, then looked around the room. Kind of messy as living rooms go, but I liked it . . . it was like my bedroom, only the whole house . . .
"Yamato, are you--"
A man walked into the living room, busy adjusting a tie, and stopped abruptly when he saw me.
"Hello," I said. "I'd sit up but I might throw up."
He nodded, as if that was a perfectly reasonable excuse. "You must be Taichi."
"Yamato's told me a lot about you . . ."
Yamato was surprised to find me and his Dad talking when he came back to the room. About soccer no less--
"I thought you hated sport?"
"Taichi's telling me about his soccer team," Mr Ishida said. "It's very interesting."
Yamato looked at me. "You play soccer?"
"I'm trying out for the school team," I told him.
"He also coaches younger players. Isn't that admirable?"
"Whatever," Yamato leaned back, narrowing his eyes at his father. "What are you doing?"
"What do you mean?"
"You've never taken an interest in any of my friends before . . . in fact you always seem to find a lot of work to do whenever Jun comes over--"
"Conversation is not one of your girlfriend's strong points," Mr Ishida remarked dryly and I warmed to him immediately. "Besides, if my conclusions of what you've told me about Taichi are correct, then I'm going to be seeing a lot more of him."
"What do you mean?" Yamato and I said in unison.
"That," his father said. "Come into my study, boys."
There was a whole shelf of books on magic. I browsed the titles as Mr Ishida pulled the thickest down and leafed through it.
"No one has really determined whether wizards choose to bond, or whether bonding chooses the wizards. Even in circumstances where wizards have seemingly been thrown together by chance, matches of unusual strength and depth have been formed. The only guidelines to forming a bond are that both wizards should be aware of its importance, have a fair degree of compatibility, and have worked together in the past with successful results."
"Wait a minute," Yamato said. "That's not what you said when I told you I wanted to bond with Jun--"
"I made similar reservations. I also felt," Mr Ishida said, putting down the book, "that with Jun, the two of you were forcing the bond. Here the bond seems to have chosen you."
"You don't think I should bond with him, do you?" Yamato was beginning to look panicked.
"I want to try something first." Mr Ishida looked briefly at the page in front of him then held out his hands. "Take a hand each."
We did so. Yamato looked over at me, embarrassed, and I stuck my tongue out at him.
"Now join your other hands."
Yamato very reluctantly reached over to take mine--
This time the familiar electric shock was a lot sharper. We held the connection for longer and I could feel energy rushing through me. It was invigorating and--
"Taichi!" Yamato let go of his father's hand to catch me. "Are you okay?"
"I'm . . . fine," I said, putting a hand gingerly up to my head to see if this was so. "My headache's gone . . ."
"Great," Yamato let go of me.
I was too excited to care. "Dude! You like fixed my headache! I bet Jyou couldn't have done that--"
"Interesting," Mr Ishida closed the book.
"What?" Yamato demanded.
"When you were touching your magic potential increased far beyond the usual limits of a bond--I'd say if you two bonded you could triple, maybe even quadruple your power--"
"Power isn't everything--I need to think about it--"
"Dude, no one is pushing you into this," I told him. "Take your time."
Yamato was giving me a funny look. "What?"
Oh yeah . . . I'd kinda tried to force him before. Instead I gave him a grin. "There's only one decision you can make. So I'm perfectly happy to sit here and wait until you admit you need me. Then we can bond."
"Are you sure that we put your head back together right?"
"I can wait for you to make a decision. After all, Hikari and Takeru have their trials to worry about--they're not going to go looking for the viperna or endanger themselves or anything--"
Mr Ishida and Yamato stared at me. "Takeru?
"Oh yeah . . . they haven't told you yet have they?"
"Takeru a rune-master?" Mr Ishida shook his head. "I can't believe it. Last time I saw him, he was this high and wearing that cute little hat--"
"He still wears it," Yamato said with a sigh. "I can't believe they went and just took Koushiro's manual. He should have been more careful--"
"Koushiro had a lot on his mind," I said defensively.
"You're happy with what your sister did?"
"Not entirely, but it wasn't Koushiro's fault!"
"Settle down. Now, they're both trial pending?"
"Let me check," Yamato pulled out his manual.
"What's being done about the Viperna?"
"Jyou contacted some senior wizards who are coming to take care of her," I answered. "I think I've been banned from trying to help until I've recovered, but they'll want the others to help."
"Shit!" Yamato said sharply.
"What's the matter?"
"Hikari's not trial pending--she's on trial. Taichi, check your manual."
I didn't need to be told twice.
"You're thinking what I'm thinking, aren't you?" Mr Ishida said.
"They said they'd borrowed the manuals because they wanted to help--" Yamato groaned. "This is exactly what they'd do. Well?"
I'd found the page. "On trial. We'd better go."
"You've got to rest--" Yamato protested as I headed to the door.
"Do you really think I'm going to rest knowing my sister is probably tracking down the viperna that has nearly killed her twice?"
Yamato shut his mouth then opened it again. "Give me a moment to get my stuff."
"I'll drive you boys. Where do you think it will be?"
Yamato and I looked at each other--of course. We needed a summoning rite.
We hadn't used our magic together since the school--
"Get the car out," Yamato said. "We'll take care of it."
If Mr Ishida noticed we were both rather quiet in the car he didn't comment. Hopefully he put that down to us being worried about Hikari and Takeru and not the magic.
We'd both been thinking the same thing.
"You're not going to kiss me this time, are you?"
"What are you talking about?" I demanded of Yamato. "You kissed me."
"Just as long as it doesn't happen again." Yamato said firmly, putting down the things we needed for the location spell.
"Whatever. Why did you pull away last time, anyway?"
Yamato blinked at me. "Why wouldn't I? I mean--kissing you?"
"What?" I folded my arms. "Are you saying I need to brush my teeth or--"
"You're a guy. I have a girlfriend--" Yamato pointed out patiently.
"I know you kissed me. And I know you liked it," I said, staring him down. "What I don't get is why you have to pretend you didn't--"
"What makes you think I liked it?"
I sighed. "This."
And I kissed him.
"Turn left here," Yamato said, tapping his father's shoulder. It must be cool to have a father you could talk to about magic . . . I wish my parents knew.
Although then again, telling them I've let Hikari endanger herself not just once but twice--
I think I'll keep that to myself.
"There! Turn right--" Yamato gasped. "It's her!"
"And Takeru and Hikari!" I sighed. "Just great--why can't they keep themselves out of trouble--"
"Taking the example if their elder brothers, I presume?" Mr Ishida said.
"Tai-kun, that was sarcasm."
"Oh." Then I realised--Tai-kun?
I decided not to comment.
"We get out here," Yamato opened his door.
"I'll find somewhere to park then come back and help you. Don't do anything too foolish."
I pulled him out of the car. "Argue with him later. The viperna can't wait."
"Oh. Yeah. Right."
It was exactly what we feared.
Hikari and Takeru had evidently decided to take on the viperna themselves--and they were in trouble. They'd managed to build a protective ring of flame around themselves, much like Yamato had the day before but the Viperna was leaning over them menacingly.
"Are you insane!" I yelled at my sister. "What made you think you could take on a viperna?"
"Jyou did say it had been weakened--" Hikari yelled back.
"Do something!" Takeru shouted.
Yamato looked at me. "Do you think it's still weak?"
"I doubt Hikari's flames would still be up if it wasn't--this could be our only chance to take it out."
"Right," Yamato looked at me. "Water was the most effective weapon we had--could you?"
"Coming right up," I got out my manual.
The viperna was not exactly unaware of what we were planning. She hissed when she saw me. "I'd have thought shattering your runes once was enough, but you're back for a second go?"
I faltered in the middle of drawing my runes. The feeling of my runes shattering came back to me . . . And the blackness and disorientation and fear that had followed.
"Taichi! Tai-kun, it's okay." Yamato's hand rested on my shoulder. "This time I'm with you--and I'm not going to let anything happen to you."
I nodded, and resumed my runes. The viperna hissed annoyance, already working on a counter attack. We were ready at the exact same time.
Yamato seized the power in my rune just as the viperna launched her attack--water and the green sludge type stuff met in mid-air. Our attack was enough to deflect the sludge entirely but by the time the attack got to her, it had no strength left and did no damage.
"She's trying to wear us down," Yamato growled.
There had to be something we could do to stop this--my mind was a total blank. Koushiro usually came up with all the brilliant plans . . .
"Mind if I join in?"
Mr Ishida was back. I sketched another water rune for him.
This time we managed to force the viperna away from Takeru and Hikari--just in time apparently as Hikari's flame barrier winked out.
Now we were the only thing keeping the viperna from devouring our younger siblings.
"I can get Takeru and Hikari out of here," Mr Ishida said.
"If you two can take the viperna."
"We're still not strong enough--" I said. "She managed to counter our attack before--"
"We'll have to bond," Yamato said.
I stared at him.
"It's the only way," he said to his father, who was giving him a similar reaction. "You said before, back at the house it could quadruple our power--we need that--"
"I think you're making the right decision," Mr Ishida said. "Now, we need a knife--"
"I left mine at Jyou's--" I thumped my forehead. How could I have been so stupid?
"I have one--" Yamato and his father said simultaneously. They looked at each other.
"Do you boys know what to do?"
"Yes," I answered.
"I'll leave you to it and protect the kids. Get going with it, okay?"
Mr Ishida left us. Yamato pulled out his knife and I pulled the bandages off my injured hand.
Three days--and the wound was exactly the same as when I'd first cut it.
I looked at Yamato. "Do you think that's a sign?"
"Who knows?" Yamato was looking white.
"What's the matter?"
"Didn't that hurt?"
"Only a bit," I told him. "Don't worry, it will be fine."
Yamato still seemed doubtful but he used the knife to make an identical cut on his hand.
"Dude, do you even need to ask?"
We held up our hand so that the cuts met, at the same time summoning all the power we had. Then we turned to face the viperna.
I remember very little of the actual battle. Yamato's power was wrapped so closely with mind that I think I paid more attention to that then the viperna. Yamato disagrees and says that I was very keen on paying the viperna back for shattering my runes. Whatever happened, the battle had only one outcome. Yamato and I were unstoppable, the power at out fingertips immense--we watched the viperna collapse into unconsciousness.
"Seal her. Place some runes of confinement over her," Mr Ishida instructed. I had to let go of Yamato's hand to get my manual, but the felling of connection with him remained.
The runes were soon completed.
"Now . . ." Yamato trailed off uncertainly.
"I guess we turn off," I told him. Pulling my power back into me felt weird--for one there was a lot more of it. Two, I swear I felt a part of me get pulled away, to travel with Yamato's--and a bot of him stayed with me.
"Your wound is gone," Yamato said.
"So has yours."
I put my hand to his, starting as the electric shock feeling came back, stronger. I could feel Yamato's surprise from his perspective. "Cool."
Then we were kissing again.
This time, I could feel Yamato's pleasure at it, knew that he felt the rightness of this exchange just as I did--
Mr Ishida's dry comment broke us apart. "I believe this was something you forgot to mention."
Takeru and Hikari were giving us similar 'what-on-earth-ew' type looks.
I blushed. "Um."
Panic rushed through Yamato, panic and fear and guilt--so I was not surprised when he pushed me away.
"That didn't happen!" he insisted. "It didn't mean anything--" he then turned and ran away.
I didn't mind.
"How are you two. Okay?"
"We're fine. A little tired--" Hikari was still looking at me weird. "Um, what was that all about?"
"It's kind of hard to explain," I said.
"Try," Mr Ishida requested.
The senior wizards had arrived to take the viperna away. I was walking Takeru and Hikari home. They were both subdued. The senior wizards had given them a stern lecture on heedless behavior putting others at risk.
"Do you think they demoted us?"
"You're on trial. You can't get any more demoted than that."
"Just check Taichi, please?"
"Why don't you? I mean, the senior wizards gave you two your manuals."
"I'm too scared."
I rolled my eyes. "Fine." I flicked through my manual. "What's you last name, again?"
"Taikaishi Takeru--" I began laughing.
"Taichi--" Hikari said annoyed.
"I'm sorry," I said. "But you haven't been demoted."
"You're now a novice runemaster." I put out my hand. "Well done, Takeru."
Hikari squeaked and pulled out her manual. Takeru did the same--to check I suppose.
"I'm a novice!"
"And I'm a level one adept!" Hikari hugged me. "Oh, Taichi!"
"I didn't do it," I told her.
"I know but still--"
"Hey, it's got Yamato's name next to yours," Takeru said.
"We bonded, remember?"
Takeru continued to look at the book. "I didn't know you were at the Apprentice level, Taichi--"
I grabbed the book. He was right. And next to Yamato's name was the ranking of 'two'--
"I have to go phone Yamato and tell him," I said.
"Um, Tai? You're not bothered by the fact that the last we saw of him, he was running away from you--"
"He was running away from all of us," I corrected. "And no, I'm not bothered. We're bonded, so I know deep down he doesn't hate me, or fear me. It's just going to take him a little time to realise he should be with me."
"Everything's that simple, huh?" Hikari grinned.
"I hope Yamato does decide he needs you. I'd rather you than Jun," Takeru grinned as we reached his apartment. "If you like, I'll tell him I like you more."
"Thanks Takeru. I guess I'll see you round--"
"Why not come in and use our phone?"
"Even better," I was grinning like a kid opening a birthday present as I phoned the Ishida's. Yamato couldn't hide from his feelings forever--and when he was ready to admit them, I would be right here waiting. It was a win/win situation.